Antifungal medicines are used to treat fungal infections, which most commonly affect your skin, hair and nails.
You can get some antifungal medicines over the counter from your pharmacy, but you may need a prescription from your GP for other types.
Infections antifungals can treat
Fungal infections commonly treated with antifungals include:
- athlete's foot
- fungal nail infection
- vaginal thrush
- some kinds of severe dandruff
Less commonly, there are also more serious fungal infections that develop deep inside the body tissues, which may need to be treated in hospital.
- aspergillosis, which affects the lungs
- fungal meningitis, which affects the brain
You're more at risk of getting one of these more serious fungal infections if you have a weakened immune system – for example, if you're taking medicines to suppress your immunity.
Types of antifungal medicines
Antifungal medicines are available as:
- topical antifungals – a cream, gel, ointment or spray you can apply directly to your skin, hair or nails
- oral antifungals – a capsule, tablet or liquid medicine that you swallow
- intravenous antifungals – an injection into a vein in your arm, usually given in hospital
- intravaginal antifungal pessaries – small, soft tablets you can insert into the vagina
Some common names for antifungal medicines include:
How antifungal medicines work
Antifungal medicines work by either:
- killing the fungal cells – for example, by affecting a substance in the cell walls, causing the contents of the fungal cells to leak out and the cells to die
- preventing the fungal cells growing and reproducing
When to see a pharmacist or GP
See a pharmacist or GP if you think you have a fungal infection. They will advise you on which antifungal medicine to take and how to take or use it. See below for some questions you may want to ask them.
The patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine will also contain advice on using your medicine.
Speak to your pharmacist or GP if you accidentally take too much of your antifungal medicine. You may be advised to visit your nearest hospital's accident and emergency (A&E) department if you've taken excessive amounts.
If you're advised to go to hospital, take the medicine's packaging with you so the healthcare professionals who treat you know what you've taken.
Things to consider when using antifungal drugs
Before taking antifungal medicines, speak to a pharmacist or your GP about:
- any existing conditions or allergies that may affect your treatment for fungal infection
- the possible side effects of antifungal medicines
- whether the antifungal medicine may interact with other medicines you may already be taking (known as drug interactions)
- whether your antifungal medicine is suitable to take during pregnancy or while breastfeeding – many aren't suitable
You can also check the patient information leaflet that comes with your antifungal medicine for more information.
Side effects of antifungal medicines
Your antifungal medicine may cause side effects. These are usually mild and only last for a short period of time.
They can include:
- itching or burning
- feeling sick
- tummy (abdominal) pain
- a rash
Occasionally, your antifungal medicine may cause a more severe reaction, such as:
- an allergic reaction – your face, neck or tongue may swell and you may have difficulty breathing
- a severe skin reaction – such as peeling or blistering skin
- liver damage (occurs very rarely) – you may experience loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, jaundice, dark urine or pale faeces, tiredness or weakness
Stop using the medicine if you have these severe side effects, and see your GP or pharmacist to find an alternative.
If you're having difficulty breathing, visit the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital or call 999 for an ambulance.
Reporting side effects
If you suspect that a medicine has made you unwell, you can report this side effect through the Yellow Card Scheme.
The scheme is run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Antifungal medicines for children
Some antifungal medicines can be used on children and babies – for example, miconazole oral gel can be used to treat oral thrush in babies.
But different doses are usually needed for children of different ages